Whatever kind of bow you prefer, be it a traditional longbow, a recurve, or a compound bow, choosing the right wood will make all the difference in your shooting performance and the longevity of the bow itself.
There are dozens and dozens of wood species out there, and you can make a bow from most of them, but only relatively few can produce truly excellent bows.
Below is a list of the 17 best kinds of wood for bow making. No matter what your objectives are, you are sure to find a species that will work wonderfully.
Maple is among the most popular and certainly one of the best-looking hardwoods around, and that includes for bow making.
In fact, there are plenty of archers and bowyers alike that swear maple is actually the supreme wood for making bows.
With an excellent combination of durability, availability, and energy storage, there is certainly a lot to like about maple.
And that’s just for traditional bows: its better qualities shine all the brighter when it is mated to other materials.
Maple might not be as flashy or elicit as many oohs and aahs as more exotic wood choices, but you would be foolish to ignore all the advantages it has just for want of bragging rights.
If you are just uncertain about what wood you want for your next project or your next purchase, you won’t go wrong with maple.
Cherry is a divisive choice for bow making, or at the very least it is considered a lesser choice compared to some of the other prime woods on this list.
But despite the controversy, there is no denying that cherry has several excellent attributes that can produce high-performance bows. It is known as a very “fast” wood thanks to its rapid rate of return.
This means that a bow made with or from cherry can launch an arrow at a higher velocity, all things being equal, and that can make all the difference for hunting or taking a more accurate long-range shot.
Cherry is also famed for its overall durability, lightweight and good looks.
The single biggest drawback associated with cherry for bow making is generally its high cost, and it can sometimes be difficult to find a large and correctly figured board.
3. Red Oak
Dense, heavy, and durable are the standout features of red oak.
It also tends to be pretty expensive despite how common it is, but this has more to do with the overall quality of this wood for various purposes than its rarity.
Properly made and given just a little bit of care, a bow made from red oak could prove to be a once-in-a-lifetime purchase thanks to its extraordinary durability and longevity.
However, aside from the expense, red oak can be problematic for bow-making because it tends to be a pretty knotty wood.
Assuming you are willing to put up with a few “reject” pieces in quest of the winner, and don’t mind spending the time to find the right one, it can be a worthwhile investment for your next bow.
An unusual choice that is bound to elicit some raised eyebrows from those not in the know, palmwood is an interesting and inspired choice for bow-making.
Palmwood is very dense and hard on the outside, but highly soft and supple on the inside.
This lends it towards manufacturing bows that are very long and slender, but this usually translates to excellent long-range performance.
Palm wood bows are easy to care for and durable, but the wood itself is often difficult to come by outside of regions where it doesn’t grow natively, and it tends to be very expensive when you do find it.
Dogwood is another inspired choice for crafting bows. Although lumber intended for the purpose is somewhat rare inside the United States, you won’t have to work too hard to find one.
Dogwood is known for keeping its shape even after much use and its excellent compression ratio means it withstands stress wonderfully.
This is another dense hardwood, and one that is naturally resistant to mold, mildew, and moisture even when the finish is compromised. For a hard-use outdoor bow, these are all great qualities.
But, as with all woods, there’s a catch. Dogwood is another wood that is known to be knotty, and finding a higher-grade piece that will produce a good bow means you’re going to pay a pretty penny.
The fact that it is uncommon, and good pieces usually spendy, means that dogwood might not be worth the trouble for you depending on your objectives.
6. Red Cedar
The mention of cedar is likely to raise some eyebrows among the experienced archers and bowyers reading, but before you get too upset know that red cedar isn’t strictly a real species of cedar at all, but is instead a species of juniper.
Red cedar has some serious advantages for constructing a bow, though: it is commonly available, lightweight, and ideal for making traditional longbows.
That being said, it is still somewhat brittle and has a tendency to splinter, so hand protection or wrapping might be a smart upgrade.
Your standard species of juniper also have some serious advantages for bow making, particularly if you want a compact bow still capable of producing good velocity while remaining durable.
For making a smaller traditional bow of any sort, juniper is a great choice. Dense, tight-grained, and with a very speedy return, juniper can produce a bow that performs out of all proportion with its size.
But chances are that bow will indeed need to be a small one: although not particularly difficult to find, finding a longer, larger piece suitable for making a bow of equivalent size can be difficult.
It would not be wise to dismiss hickory as merely a wood for various tool handles… It can also make a surprisingly good bow!
Hickory is light and very strong for its density, and this can make it ideal for crafting slender bows and also for use as a component, backer or belly.
It is also easy to work, a nice bonus. Considering how common and affordable it is, it might be ideal for your next project.
But it has, to some, a critical flaw: hickory is highly vulnerable to moisture, and it tends to absorb a lot of it from the air.
If this is a bow you’re going to be taking out hunting in rough weather or rough country, it will start to underperform.
Birch is a great everyday choice for bow-making. It is common, affordable, and offers a good cross-section of performance: is reasonably tough, fairly fast, and has good elasticity, all good attributes for a solid performing bow.
However, there are quite a few subspecies of birch out there, and you’ll want to make sure you get yellow birch for your bow. Only it offers good all-around performance with very few true weaknesses.
The other types of birch and white birch in particular tend to be too rigid and lack durability.
I know this is bound to ruffle some feathers among real wood aficionados because bamboo is actually a grass and not, strictly speaking, a wood.
Nonetheless, bamboo is a wonderful choice for bow making and one with a distinguished history going back millennia.
And no wonder: it is pretty affordable, available in most markets, decently rigid, highly flexible, and low maintenance. It is also easy to work by applying heat. What’s not to like, even if it isn’t truly a wood?
11. Orange Osage
Regarded by many as the absolute best of woods for longbow making, the reputation of orange osage precedes it, and with good reason: possessing a nearly perfect blend of a strength, flexibility, and energy storage, it also happens to be beautiful and is even easy to work with tools or heat.
Does it have any weaknesses? Only one: it is hard to find and generally very expensive. But for those who demand the best and can pay for it, orange osage is a superlative choice.
Ash is a hardwood that has been used throughout history for bows. So long as it has been properly seasoned, it is a stable, dense, hard wood that can be easily worked with good tools.
It can produce a bow of good quality but only up to a moderate to moderate-high weight as the hardness means it is prone to cracking when heavily loaded or nearing maximum compression.
Despite this, ash is a common and popular choice for laminated bows, especially when made from European ash as opposed to American ash. American ash is serviceable but generally inferior.
Arguably the most famous wood ever used for bow making historically, yew still has many advantages and many adherents today.
Highly elastic, compression resistant, and very resistant to rot, you can hardly do better for a traditional longbow or recurve bow than yew!
Something to keep in mind is that you don’t necessarily need to get this wood from England.
Various yew trees grow all over Europe, and there are even species in the form of the Pacific you native to N. America.
In any case, the historical demand for yew means the trees and shrubs were nearly wiped out and so they remain protected today.
One word of caution, however: every single part of the yew tree is toxic, so take appropriate protections when working it…
Hazel is an interesting and serviceable wood for bow making, and in particular makes very good flat bows.
Easy to work with tools, easy to heat treat, and highly adaptable, hazel can afford modest performance and good durability for a cheap price.
This can make it especially well-suited to making serviceable bows for beginners or lighter bows for any other purpose.
The main flaw of hazelwood is that it tends to fracture when used for heavy bows or put under serious compression. For experimentation or turning out a modestly performing bow at a very good price, give hazel a look.
Elm wood is another legendary wood used throughout history for bow-making.
Be it the famous witch elm, winged elm, or rock elm, all offers dependably good performance, particularly excellent durability, easy working and bending qualities using heat or steam, and ideal characteristics for making a self-bow.
However, it can be prone to cracking if not backed, especially when employed for a longer bow.
However, used for short, sturdy bows it is excellent, and it can make an especially good flat bow.
Somewhat maintenance intensive, it has a tendency to fail spectacularly, so keep an eye on it.
With excellent ratings for tension in a very snappy responsiveness, mulberry compares favorably to osage in raw performance, and it tends to be much cheaper, falling short somewhat only in its weaker compression score.
However, the wood tends to be knobby, wavy, full of knots and is generally problematic when it comes to finding a high-quality, clean piece from which to begin.
But the good news is this is offset by the fact that it is quite workable, and is especially easy to bend when heated, meaning you won’t struggle to adjust the curvature.
Lemonwood by itself can make a solidly good bow, but it really starts to shine when it is used with another wood for backing, and hickory is commonly recommended for the purpose.
Lemonwood is forgiving and easy to work although it does not respond particularly well to heat or steam for bending. Shaping by bending, clamping, and gluing is usually prescribed.
However, since much lemonwood comes from Cuba and only a few places in South America, the stuff is getting difficult to come by, and quite expensive.
Considering its other eccentricities, it may or may not be worth tracking down for your next build, but it offers much to those who care to experiment with combining different woods.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.